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Tower Hamlets councillors vote tonight for referendum on whether to scrap elected mayor

PUBLISHED: 22:28 18 November 2020 | UPDATED: 22:54 18 November 2020

John Biggs has just persuaded Tower Hamlets Council to trigger a referendum that could put him out of his job as all-powerful executive mayor. Picture: Mike Brooke

John Biggs has just persuaded Tower Hamlets Council to trigger a referendum that could put him out of his job as all-powerful executive mayor. Picture: Mike Brooke

Mike Brooke

A people’s vote on whether to get rid of the all-powerful post of executive mayor has been agreed tonight by Tower Hamlets Council.

Labour majority votes to trigger referendum on May 6, 2021, on whether to scrap post of Tower Hamlets mayor. Picture: PA stockLabour majority votes to trigger referendum on May 6, 2021, on whether to scrap post of Tower Hamlets mayor. Picture: PA stock

It could mean scrapping the mayor’s office and a returning to the town hall run by a council leader and a cabinet after 10 years.

The referendum is to be on May 6 next year, the same day that neighbouring Newham holds the same referendum and at the same time as the London Assembly and Mayor elections.

Tower Hamlets and Newham along with Hackney are three of only four London boroughs to be run by elected executive mayors.

But the system in Tower Hamlets resulted in a corrupt administration led by an elected Lutfur Rahman who made all decisions behind closed doors and refused to be accountable to the council.

John Biggs wins 2015 election for mayor... just beating Rabina Khan's People's Alliance into 2nd place. Picture: Mike BrookeJohn Biggs wins 2015 election for mayor... just beating Rabina Khan's People's Alliance into 2nd place. Picture: Mike Brooke

He was later barred from office in 2015 by the High Court with government auditors having to chase up his deals selling off public assets below value and cash hand-outs going to dubious unknown fringe organisations.

Tonight’s resolution was tabled by Labour’s current executive mayor John Biggs, effectively putting himself out of a job if the referendum decides to get rid of his post.

“It’s been 10 years since Tower Hamlets voted to adopt the mayor system,” he told councillors.

“This has been a decade overshadowed by the former mayor’s removal from office and government commissioners taking over our powers.

Lutfur Rahman, now campaigning to retain office of mayor in 2021, launching his Aspire party's manifesto which was wiped out in 2018 Tower Hamlets council elections. Picture: Mike BrookeLutfur Rahman, now campaigning to retain office of mayor in 2021, launching his Aspire party's manifesto which was wiped out in 2018 Tower Hamlets council elections. Picture: Mike Brooke

“The people should now have their say on how their council should be run.”

Labour threw out an alternative Opposition motion by independent and Lib Dem councillors to push for a choice on the referendum ballot paper of three ways to run the town hall rather than just a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to having a mayor which they said was like the 2016 Brexit vote that has ended the UK’s EU membership.

There now follows months of campaigning for or against having an elected mayor, with Lutfur Rahman already having thrown his hat into to ring launching his own campaign to keep the controversial system, now his five-year ban on office has finally ended.


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